Adrian Wiszniewski

The Sculptor’s Nightmare


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Adrian Wiszniewski born 1958
Etching on paper
Image: 607 × 910 mm
Purchased 1987

Catalogue entry

P77195 The Sculptor's Nightmare 1986

Etching 607 × 910 (23 7/8 × 35 7/8) on Somerset paper 743 × 1038 (29 1/4 × 40 7/8); printed by John Mackechnie and Stuart Duffin at Glasgow Print Studios and published by Glasgow Print Studios in an edition of 70
Inscribed ‘A. Wiszniewski’ below image b.r., ‘7/70’ and ‘14/4/86’ below image b.l. and ‘“The Sculptors Nightmare”’ below image bottom centre
Purchased from Nigel Greenwood Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Lit: Clive Turnbull, ‘Signs of Dreaming: The Work of Scottish Artist Adrian Wiszniewski’, Green Book, vol.2, no.4, 1986, p.33, repr.p.32

Printed in black, this etching depicts an imagined scene with the sculptor (centre), a resting girl (centre right) and three inverted male figures (bottom right). The artist wrote in reply to a questionnaire sent by the compiler on 25 November 1992 that the subject of the print is the ‘sculptor's dilemma (on spotting “Love Bite” on woman's neck): (i) has she been unfaithful? (ii) has she been attacked by (a) rapist or (b) vampire? (iii) shall I use my sculptor's tools and pierce her heart and save her soul? (iv) am I acting out of revenge for her unfaithfulness?’ The artist added in a letter to the compiler of 26 October 1993:

Concerning the three inverted figures in the etching, they represent ‘the gods’ of a parallel world spectating and in a sense manipulating the scene that they have before them. They form an ‘unholy trinity’ arguing the case for a ‘Crime of Passion’. An inverted lit match alerts us to the fact that they come from a ‘world of darkness’. An inverted phallic lighthouse suggests that in this moral dilemma over sexual revenge there lurks danger. And thirdly, a bell-tower through inversion becomes a bottomless well with the bell anticipating a death-knell ... the angel figured in the small roundel over the Sculptors shoulder, acts in the victims defence and in defence of charity and morality.

The setting depicted in P77195 is an attic and, as the artist recalls, ‘relates to the attic-flat we [the artist and his wife Diane Wiszniewski] lived in in Alnmouth, Northumberland in 1984–8. It also relates to an exhibition called “Room at the Top”, [Nicola Jacobs Gallery, Feb.–March 1985] in which I took part, which drew on the relationship between place and subconscious’. The setting of an attic occurs in other works of this period, for example, ‘Aloft in the Loft’, 1987 (acrylic on canvas, repr. Adrian Wiszniewski exh. cat., Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool 1988, p.[18] in col.).

Each of the ‘props’ used in P77195 has a particular significance for the artist: the ‘inverted lighthouse - tower’ symbolises ‘sexuality corrupted’; the boat ‘steered into unknown and untrustworthy waters by way of the lighthouse is grounded’; and the bell, ‘from inverted tower it directs the boat (sculptor) and heralds ambiguously life or death’. When asked whether or not the artist's depiction of the framed portrait at the top left of the image had been influenced by the work of the Elizabethan miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, Wiszniewski replied: ‘Yes, but also the whole image. Hilliard's articulation and sophistication in dealing with complexity in a confined framework like the miniature has been of influence even though I work on a scale more appropriate to our times.’ In a letter to the compiler of 11 October 1993 he noted, ‘Nicholas Hilliard as well as other miniaturists were of considerable influence on me during the early 1980s particularly in terms of their psychological content, scale and detail. However, the framed portrait was not based on any particular Hilliard or for that matter any other element in the etching’.

The etching ‘was started under the “lights” of the “Arena Team”’ (‘Two Painters Amazed: Steven Campbell and Adrian Wiszniewski’, Arena, BBC2 1986). In the Arena documentary Wiszniewski explained, ‘the figures in all my paintings and drawings are self-portraits in a sense, not really autobiographical but are suppositions’. The figure of the sculptor in P77195 can be related to Wiszniewski's desire to become a sculptor, which was his main reason for going to art school. Between 1975 and 1979, he had studied architecture at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow and then mixed media, particularly film, at the Glasgow School of Art (1979–83). When asked if in any sense this notion of ‘suppositions’ could be related to the figures in P77195 the artist replied:

At that time [1986] I spent my mornings sleeping, evenings socializing and nights working. The image relates to that ‘Twilight Zone’ of 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning when one doubts one's own grasp of reason. The artist is faced with a ‘gothic’ moral dilemma concerning vampires and infidelity, prosecution and defence where at every turn the woman remains a victim of male judgement or attack.

P77195 was drawn in 1986 ‘at home (Alnmouth) and the Glasgow Print Studios, and etched through a series of aquatints and proofings until the fifth or sixth (final) proof at the Glasgow Print Studios some time later’. This was the artist's first etching and one of a number of etching he made during 1986. It was drawn from memory of ‘a large work on paper of the same title and done in 1984’ (‘The Sculptor's Nightmare’, 1984, distemper on paper, approx. 1830 × 1220 mm, 72 × 48 in).

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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